- Associated Press - Monday, November 28, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey on Monday filled two new seats on the state Supreme Court with a state appellate court judge and Arizona’s solicitor general, both Republicans like Ducey.

Ducey signed legislation in May to add two justices to the current five-member state high court - legislation championed by Republicans but decried by Democrats as an effort by the governor to pack the court with his nominees.

Monday’s choices include Andrew Gould, 53, who has been on the Arizona Court of Appeals since 2012 and previously spent more than a decade as a judge with Yuma County Superior Court. He was a prosecutor in Yuma and Maricopa counties and in Indiana from 1994 to 2001.

The other new justice is John Lopez IV, 48, who has been Arizona’s solicitor general since January 2015 and was previously a federal prosecutor and in private practice.

As solicitor general under Attorney General Mark Brnovich, he handled county and state criminal appeals, defended constitutional challenges to state statutes and issued legal opinions.

The governor in January appointed Clint Bolick, a longtime attorney for the conservative-leaning Goldwater Institute and an independent, to fill an Arizona Supreme Court vacancy resulting from a retirement.

Ducey passed over two Republicans, two independents and a Democrat to choose Lopez and Gould.

Gould “has a strong record as a public servant, private practitioner, trial court judge, and appellate court judge,” Ducey said in a statement. “These experiences make him exceptionally qualified for this position.”

In addition to his work as a federal prosecutor, Lopez served for six months advising Iraq on the prosecution of former President Saddam Hussein and other top Iraqi officials for war crimes. Hussein was found guilty and executed in 2006.

“John’s extensive legal experience and commitment to justice will make him a valuable asset on the state’s highest court,” Ducey said.

Brnovich also praised Lopez, who he worked with when both were at the U.S. Justice Department.

“I have no doubt John Lopez will be a brilliant justice on our state Supreme Court,” Brnovich said in a statement. “He is a leader who holds the rule of law and state and federal Constitutions in the greatest regard.”

Expanding the court will cost about $1 million a year for the new justices’ compensation and staffs.

The current five justices opposed the plan and had urged Ducey to veto it.

Chief Justice Scott Bales said the court’s caseload doesn’t merit expansion, especially when the Legislature has underfunded other court priorities.

Michael Kimerer, a Phoenix defense attorney who has represented clients in cases before Gould and being prosecuted by Lopez, feels strongly that both men are eminently qualified for the job. He said he wrote letters recommending both men.

“I found him to be just a very good judge - he’s very bright, he understands issues, he’s a hard worker,’ Kimerer said of Gould. “I think he’d make a great Supreme Court justice and I said that.

“The same with John Lopez in a little bit different way,” he added. “He’s one of the brightest prosecutors I’ve ever dealt with.”

Neither man came across as an ideologue despite worries from Democrats that Ducey would pick extremely conservative nominees, Kimerer said.

“That’s not true of John Lopez,” he said. “I would say that Judge Gould is moderately conservative, but he’s not a far right wing sort of conservative. But both of them I’ve found are the kind of judges who will follow the law.”

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